Thanks to recently closed deals with three airlines, Boeing now has 233 firm orders for 787s, a Boeing official says.

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Boeing has virtually sold out its first three years of production for the popular new 787 Dreamliner, and it has enhanced the capacity of the largest version in order to sell even more.

Thanks to recently closed deals with Air Canada, China Eastern and Vietnam Airlines, Boeing now has 233 firm orders for 787s, according to Marty Bentrott, 787 vice president for sales and marketing.

“For all practical purposes, we are sold out for the first three years,” Bentrott said. The 787 is due to enter service in 2008.

Bentrott delivered his remarks at the end of a two-day gathering of 787 customers, suppliers and financiers in Seattle. The third annual event is an opportunity for Boeing to provide technical and financial progress reports on its newest twin-aisle jet.

The tightness of Boeing’s production schedule is one of the few hurdles Bentrott said he faces in trying to sell the 787 against the Airbus A350, which is not due to enter service until 2010.

Flanked by representatives of Delta Air Lines and First Choice Airways, an early 787 customer, Bentrott acknowledged reports that Boeing is considering upping its planned production rates for the 787, including a possible second assembly line at its Everett factory, to avoid losing customers anxious for early deliveries.

But he reiterated recent comments by Boeing Chief Executive James McNerney that, regardless of demand, Boeing will not change its production plans for 2008 and 2009 because it wants to ensure those initial deliveries go smoothly.

Boeing is expected to deliver 97 787-8s from the middle of 2008 through the end of 2009.

Production rates are also highly dependent on suppliers, Bentrott said. The suppliers must assess how much more they would have to spend on factories and tooling to allow Boeing to deliver more jets.

Responding to airlines’ desire to take more passengers longer distances, Bentrott announced the 787-9 will now carry 250 to 290 passengers up to 8,800 nautical miles.

Boeing previously said the 787-9, which will enter service in late 2010, would carry 259 passengers in a three-class configuration up to 8,300 nautical miles.

The 787-9 is a stretch version of the baseline 787-8, which will enter service with All Nippon Airways in mid-2008.

“[The change] has been driven by the desire of the marketplace to use a -8 and a -9 on similar routes,” Bentrott said.

Bentrott updated capacity and range figures for the 787-8 and the shorter-range 787-3 as well.

The 787-8 will hold 210 to 250 seats and have a maximum range of 8,500 nautical miles. The 787-3 will hold 290 to 330 seats in a single-class configuration with a maximum range of 3,500 nautical miles.

Boeing previously used a single number to define each plane’s capacity: 223 seats in a three-class configuration for the 787-8; 296 seats in a two-class configuration for the 787-3.

Customers got hung up on those numbers, Bentrott said, even though capacity can vary widely depending on factors such as whether an airline opts for eight or nine seats per row.

787 passengers also will have slightly more elbow room than previously anticipated.

Boeing recently discovered it can add one inch of width to the 787’s interior by removing a layer of insulation.

The reason: Condensation tends to build up inside aluminum fuselages, Bentrott said, requiring a blanket of insulating material to absorb the moisture. The composite fuselages of the 787 will not have the same condensation problem, so the insulation is not needed.

David Bowermaster: 206-464-2724 or